Chelsea Berry Submitted photo

Why do I write about an artist? Probably a question some of you may be pondering. Well, in the case of today’s subject, Chelsea Berry, it was as simple as hearing her voice. Having been doing this since 1969, the strength of a vocal performance is what clinches the deal for me, and after watching the videos on her website where her power, passion and personality command respect and attentiveness from her audience, I had to find out more about this singer-songwriter and the best way to do that is to go directly to the source. I saw that she will be opening for Livingston Taylor at One Longfellow Square on the 4th of this month down in Portland, so that seemed like as good a time as any to do it. So I arranged to do a phone call with Berry and discovered that she and her fiancée were pulled over in their truck so she and I could chat easier.

Q: Not that long ago, I interview Mr. Taylor for a show he was doing at Johnson Hall — were you his opening act at that venue?
Berry:
I think the last show I did with Liv was in Gardiner, I believe.

Q: Yup, that was the gig I was referring to and let’s face it, you couldn’t ask to open for a more qualified person as far as performing goes.
Berry: Yeah, he is the consummate teacher. He sets an incredible example and its pretty great being with him for a number of reasons. He and I always joke that I’m kind of like the kid he never had and so we have a lot of common interests beyond music, as well; so we enjoy each other’s company on the road and there are always things to learn. He’s good about reminding me when I need a little nudge here or there — he’s a wonderful teacher.

Q: Seeing you are a new artist to me I’ve got to ask, how long have you been doing your musical career?
Berry: I started playing guitar when I was 15, my dad taught me how to play guitar, and within a week it was Father’s Day so I took the three chords he taught me and wrote a song for him for Father’s Day and that was kind of the beginning of the end of the songwriting part of it (chuckle). I started attending some songwriting workshops and things like that, I had a babysitter who was a folk singer-songwriter in Alaska where I grew up and I followed her a lot when I was in high school.

Q: As far as singer-songwriters go, I want to give you a heads-up about Connor Garvey who I interviewed just yesterday, his new album is killer.
Berry: Oh, I know Connor, not personally but I know his music and of him.

Q: Well, I find the musical landscape of Maine is well-tapped, some exceptional people in music either come from here or get attracted to here, it’s kind of neat.
Berry: Well, for me, and I have lived both in New York and Chicago for a while, ultimately I find my peace in my songwriting comes out of being in the woods, being on the ocean, and being in the mountains. So I think you’re right that people are born in it or seek it out. It’s a lot more fun to hang out on the mountains and in the trees for me than trying to scrape by my next rent check for my apartment.

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Q: Well, for the folks who, like me, are not familiar with your music, what can they expect from this One Longfellow show?
Berry: “What can they expect?” Oh, man, I almost came up with something really sassy to say, but, (laughter)!

Q: Oh, please — don’t hesitate.
Berry: (Laughter) Livingston and I have a really fun rapport. A lot of times when you see an opener it’s a separate thing: you see the opener, there’s a set break, and they you see the headliner. Whether or not the music is similar, it’s two very different things. When Liv and I started years ago it was like that but the more time we spent together the more collaboration we started doing. So the way that we do it is he comes out and introduces me and I sing my set, then I bring him back out and we do duets together. And then again after his set, at the end of the night, he brings me back out and we sing together some more. So there’s a lot of amusing stage banter that goes on and a lot of energy, I mean, anyone who has seen Livingston perform knows he’s an entertainer, so it’s very dynamic, we’re both dynamic performers and have a lot of fun together, and I think that people can really see that and they enjoy watching us enjoy each other’s company on stage.

Q: I would like to comment not only on your vocal qualities but also your ability to perform someone else’s song and make it your own, that’s not an easy thing to do.
Berry: Well, the way that most of us write music is because we grew up listening to music, and there are things that move us and inspire us, and we aspire to be better writers so we do the best we can covering other people’s songs in order to learn how to be better writers.

Q: Speaking of songwriting, do you have a new project that you’re working on at the moment?
Berry: I do, actually, and I haven’t talked about it with anyone yet, so here you go.

Q: Alright, that sounds good … let’s hear it!
Berry: I was doing a show with Livingston and staying at a bed-and-breakfast that night. The next morning I apologized to the owner for coming in late and explained that I had done a show that previous evening. She got excited and asked if I’d write her a song for her son who had died from a Fentanyl overdose the year before. I did and sent it to her, she liked it and said that she wanted to do a whole record. So I’m writing this album for her and it’s more for the people who are left behind maybe, but she’s sending me into the studio — I’m doing all of the writing, it’s all original stuff — and once the album is finished the proceeds of sales will go towards rehabilitation and awareness. We’re doing a release show in Alton, New Hampshire in August.

Q: Is there anything, Chelsea, that you’d like me to pass on to the readers of this article?
Berry: Oh, man! Well, there are a thousand things I’d like you to pass on but we don’t have time (laughter) …

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Q: Well, if you had to pick one, what would it be?
Berry: If I had to pick one (pause) well, these are Maine-based papers so I’d direct it to Maine-based humans: It’s been really magical to relocate here — did you know that? I live up here now.

Q: Say what?!
Berry: Yeah, my fiancée and I moved to Gouldsboro, which is just north of Acadia National Park. I’m actually looking at the mountains as I’m talking with you right now. He built a cabin up here years ago and we moved up here full-time during the pandemic. I have lived in so many different places all over the United States — we travel a lot and Maine is such an awesome place to come home to. So that’s what I would want people to know: how grateful I am that I’ve landed here!

Q: Is there anything we haven’t discussed that you think we should?
Berry: Well, not really. I am excited to be coming back to One Longfellow. I’ve played there a number of times and it is one of my favorite venues to play, actually, of all the venues I’ve played just because of the way it’s set up: it feels very intimate, it’s a fun little space, so I’m looking forward to that.

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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